RIP Michaelangelo Antonioni and Ingmar Bergman

antoni1.jpg(Article by Yorgo Douramacos) bergman1.jpgAn event passed this week in the world of film, comparable to the impact felt in patriotic and political circles over the simultaneous passings of Thomas Jefferson and John Adams on the same day (July 4th) back in 1826. It’s not clear to me how many that nod in recognition at the names of Michaelangelo Antonioni and Ingmar Bergman have ever actually seen a film that either directed. More likely they’ve heard Bergman referenced by Woody Allen and mistake Antonioni for that other Michaelangelo, the one who painted the Sistine Chapel.

Michaelangelo Antonioni, lauded director of landmarks such as L’Avventura and Blow Up
and Ingmar Berman, legendary Swedish director of be-all-end-all art films like The Seventh Seal, Fanny and Alexander and Persona, died this Monday. Antonioni was 94 and Bergman 89.

These are the great artists of their generation. They reimagined film, took it from a tool for banal fantasy and used it for incisive and artful introspection. They shocked the world in their time by taking a medium that had previously been entirely light and harmless and using it as a scalpel to get to the heart of life’s mysteries.

Their films represented a leap in conceptualization on par with the gulf between Marlowe and Shakespeare. Compare, for instance, Ben Hur, the winner for best picture in 1959 to Bergman’s great meditation on death, The Seventh Seal, released the same year. You’ll find not only the craft, but the intellectual scope, to be from nearly different planets.

It may be a lot to ask for people to get up the guts to watch Bergman and Antonioni films. They have reputation for unbroken dreariness. But the impish questioning and elliptical grace of Bergman and the drastically poetic eye of Antonioni really have no equal in past or present. Even if you don’t like them they will form in your mind and force you into an opinion. Plus, you can hardly recognize the breadth of capability in cinema if you do not sample its masters.